• Course Introduction

        • Time: 31 hours
        • Free Certificate
        Sociology is the systematic study of society. The sociological imagination is a central concept to sociology since it encourages sociologists to connect personal experiences with larger social issues. For example, did you know the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world? To understand this trend, sociologists use scientific methods to study and connect various social issues, such as sex education in schools, access to birth control, sexualization in the media, socio-economic status, opportunities for women, and the personal issues of teenage sexual activity and pregnancy.

        Next, we use sociological theory to help us understand the world around us. These theories are not constraining or "right" and "wrong" but frameworks we use to examine society. We explore three classic sociological paradigms: structural-functional, social conflict, and symbolic interaction. Each paradigm is a different lens we can use to study society. Sociology uses the scientific method to explore the world through observation rather than opinion, religion, or political affiliation.

        In this course, we explore the origins of sociology, major sociological theories, research methods, and basic sociological principles. We also study how the institutions and groups we belong to impact us as individuals. We will examine categories of inequality, such as social class, sex and gender, sexual orientation, and race and ethnicity. We will explore the impact of various institutions, such as culture, family, media, religion, economics, and politics. You should try to develop your sociological imagination as you progress through the course by relating the topics and theories you read to your life experiences. How have your institutions and categorizations shaped your personal story?

        • Course Syllabus

          First, read the course syllabus. Then, enroll in the course by clicking "Enroll me". Click Unit 1 to read its introduction and learning outcomes. You will then see the learning materials and instructions on how to use them.

        • Unit 1: What is Sociology?

          Why should we study sociology? How can we apply it to the real world? Sociology is the systematic study of society. C. Wright Mills (1916–1962), the American sociologist, coined the concept of sociological imagination to encourage us to recognize the connections and distinctions between our personal lives and larger social issues.

          For example, did you know the United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world? Sociologists explore individual decisions through the lens of society. Using the scientific method, we can study how and why the trend of teen pregnancy exists. How do social issues influence this personal experience? Teenagers receive direction and influence from sex education in schools, religion, access to birth control, sexualization in the media, poverty, and women's alternatives to childbearing.

          Humans create theories to make sense of the world. These theories are not necessarily "right" and "wrong" but frameworks we use to understand. For example, the earliest humans created theories about how the Earth originated and what happens when we die. Sociological theories examine our societal beliefs. We will explore three classical sociological paradigms; structural-functional, social conflict, and symbolic interaction. Each paradigm presents a different lens sociologists use to study society.

          Finally, we examine why we should study sociology. For example, sociologists helped argue for ending "separate but equal" racial segregation in the United States. Sociology teaches how individuals fit into society and how we classify ourselves and others.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 4 hours.

        • Unit 2: Sociological Research

          Sociologists rely on a philosophy called positivism which asserts we can only gain authentic knowledge or truth through empirical observations. We must experience our observations and make scientific measurements through sensory experience rather than rely on faith-based and emotional experiences.

          In this Unit, we study the six steps of the scientific method and the importance of reliability and validity. We also examine different data collection methods in sociology research, including surveys, field research, participant observation, ethnographies, case studies, experiments, and secondary data analysis. Each data collection method has advantages and disadvantages and is best matched with certain theoretical perspectives and questions. For example, a macro question about women in society would most likely use surveys as a research method since we need to sample a large group to get a representative picture.

          Finally, we discover the historical motivation for ethical standards when conducting research. We explore some infamous cases where the scientists had adopted a questionable and disturbing ethical rationale, such as the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male conducted from 1932–1972, Stanley Milgram's obedience experiment in 1961, and Philp Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment in 1971. The negative ramifications of these experiments, including a prevailing lack of trust in the healthcare industry and research community, continue to this day.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.

        • Unit 3: Culture

          Our culture refers to our way of life or the framework we use to live in our community. Sociologists examine common characteristics of culture, such as our symbols, values, beliefs, and norms. As individuals, society influences us through its culture. We are born into a society and raised according to a culture that has defined values, beliefs, norms, and language.

          Most sociologists encourage us to practice cultural relativism and judge other cultures by their standards rather than by our guidelines or norms (ethnocentrism). This sympathetic mindset can be difficult to develop since the goal of any culture is to get its members to adopt or internalize values, beliefs, and norms as our own. Throughout our lives, we discover examples of different cultures which the media describes as high, pop, sub, and counter.

          Finally, we examine theoretical perspectives of culture: structural and social conflict and symbolic interaction. Notice the different focus each theory brings to the study of culture. Consider the impact your culture has had on you.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 2 hours.

        • Unit 4: Socialization, Groups, and Social Control

          Socialization describes the lifelong process of learning about our culture and developing our personality. We learn not only the language, the key to all socialization, but the values, beliefs, and norms of our culture. Scientists have debated the impact of nature (genetics and biology) and nurture (environment) for years. Today, most scientists agree there is a complex relationship between these two concepts – our biology and experiences.
          As social beings, humans spend much of their lives interacting with various groups. Consider the impact our primary groups have on our behavior and socialization during our lifetime. These include ingroups, outgroups, and reference groups. We will discuss the types and functions of secondary groups, which often become formal organizations. Notice the central characteristics of bureaucracies, organizations designed to promote efficiency and rationality.

          Deviance is a violation of the norms or rules of a society. It can be positive or negative and is often met with methods of social control through sanctions to encourage good behavior and discourage bad. Every society exhibits instances of social deviance ranging from mild breaches of etiquette (folkways) to extreme violations of cultural taboos (mores).

          Although deviance varies by time, location, and audience, most societies respond with efforts to maintain social order using informal and formal, positive and negative sanctions. At the end of Unit 4, we explore different types of crime which are a violation of our written rules. Discretion is possible at each stage from policing, courts, and corrections. Race and social class can impact our response.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 3 hours.

        • Unit 5: Social Stratification

          In this unit, we examine how social stratification ranks our social worth. How does your relative position affect your life chances and opportunities? Consider how we rank people in our community, such as by the car they drive or the neighborhood they live in. Sociologists are most interested in how these ascribed characteristics impact opportunity. Ascribed characteristics are those you are born into or have no control over, such as race, sex, sexuality, and age.

          Stratification is a universal component in society, we find it everywhere, but the factors we rank and the inequality of the ranking system varies. In this unit, we consider institutionalized inequalities, such as racism, sexism, and ageism, and how our prejudices continue to influence our outlook. Research shows that race and ethnicity continue to affect access to valuable resources, such as healthcare, education, and housing.

          We will discuss gender, gender identity, sexuality, and the aging process as dimensions of stratification. In this Unit, we examine the social construction of the category and the prejudice and discrimination that still function in society. In sociology, we pay particular attention to institutionalized discrimination, or the bigotry and intolerance built into our laws, policies, and practices. Institutional discrimination does not require any malicious intent, yet the consequences are often devastating to the groups affected.

          We also address issues of national and global inequality. Why are some countries wealthier than others? How can we address the needs of more than seven billion people worldwide? What metrics distinguish or categorize high-, middle-, and low-income nations? What is relative, absolute, and subjective poverty?

          Compare modernization and dependency theory in terms of global stratification. What is the difference between global classification and inequality? What is extreme poverty in a global context? What efforts have the members of the United Nations made to eradicate global inequality and address the needs of the world's population? How do you explain the cyclical impact and consequences of poverty?

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 8 hours.

        • Unit 6: Sociological Institutions 

          Now, let's study our primary sociological institutions: the family, religion, education, government, and the workplace. Sociologists have witnessed dramatic changes in the structure of the American family, with decreases in marriage and childbearing and increases in cohabitation and diverse family forms. What impact do these changes have on society as a whole? What are some of the challenges families face?

          From a sociological perspective, we also look at religious institutions, a second significant social and cultural indicator. Émile Durkheim, the French sociologist, said we use religion for healing and faith, as a communal bond, and to understand "the meaning of life". These social functions affect a community's structure, balance, and social fabric.

          Education is another institution that can be a social solution and challenge. For example, many schools serve as change agents to break poverty and racism. They can also create barriers by fostering large drop-out rates and institutional disorganization. Schools have gained national attention and sowed political discord when community members protest a chosen curriculum, such as sex education or scientific evolution. Sociologists consider all of these trends.

          Finally, we explore government institutions in terms of their political and economic structure from a sociological perspective. How do you define power? Do you inherit your social status at birth or earn it in the workplace? We end the unit by examining how various economic systems affect how societies function. Karl Marx had a lot to say on this topic.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 7 hours.

        • Unit 7: Social Change and Social Issues

          In our final unit, we explore social change in societies that are constantly making cultural adjustments due to social movements and responding to challenges they face in their environments. Large-scale social movements can have a great social impact, become institutionalized, and evolve into a fixed and formal part of the social structure. For example, the "second wave of feminism" originated as a grassroots movement during the 1960s to protest inequalities between the sexes. Most original participants did not belong to formal organizations but publicized their cause through conscious-raising groups.

          Population trends like urbanization and environmental toxification have impacted social change. Where you live impacts your experiences and opportunities. We explore the differences between urbanization, suburbs, exurbs, and concentric zones from various sociological perspectives. Demographic measures such as fertility and mortality rates have created population shifts, and governments have adopted different approaches to climate change, pollution, garbage, e-waste, and toxic hazards. Notice the inequality in environmental hazards based on race and location, called environmental racism.

          We explore pressing issues related to access to healthcare and media. Notice how health disparities exist based on gender, socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity. We also see different health and illness rates among high- and low-income nations. Consider our reaction to people with preventable diseases or ones aggravated by socially unacceptable activities. These diseases and complications, such as AIDS, sexually-transmitted diseases, certain cancers, and obesity, share varying degrees of social stigma.

          Media technology allows us to remain in constant contact with people near and far. However, these connections are not distributed equally globally or within our communities. Notice the stratification in information access known as the knowledge gap. The "digital divide" refers to unequal access to technology based on categories of stratification such as income and race. How does this impact our relationships? Pay attention to the various privacy and security issues.

          Completing this unit should take you approximately 5 hours.

        • Study Guide

          This study guide will help you get ready for the final exam. It discusses the key topics in each unit, walks through the learning outcomes, and lists important vocabulary. It is not meant to replace the course materials!

        • Course Feedback Survey

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          If you come across any urgent problems, email contact@saylor.org.

        • Certificate Final Exam

          Take this exam if you want to earn a free Course Completion Certificate.

          To receive a free Course Completion Certificate, you will need to earn a grade of 70% or higher on this final exam. Your grade for the exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you can take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt.

          Once you pass this final exam, you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.